Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Texas justice?

My neighbor Dan won't be watching the Enron corruption trial this week when Jeffrey Skilling and Kenny Boy Lay go under cross-examination. But Dan is as much a victim as anybody of the orgy of fraud that permeated and exuded from the energy trader as any of its workers or stockholders.

Dan was the last employee at Pioneer Industries here on the Tacoma Tideflats. Pioneer produced chemicals – sodium hydroxide, chlor alkili (used in pulp production) and others. Pioneer came to the Tideflats when industrial rates were a fraction of a penny per kilowatt-hour. It closed in 2002, a move directly related to the Enron-rigged energy price spikes.

That energy price manipulation was a key to the economic malaise up and down the West Coast. (Had Gray Davis appropriately highlighted this fact, the nation would never have had to endure the humiliation of a Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.) The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) did nothing but aid in the coverup. In fact, it was the Snohomish County PUD whose lawyers uncovered and publicized the some of the most grotesque fraud.

"Kenny Boy" used to roam the governor's mansion in Texas as the deep pockets for W's campaign operation. He was the single largest donor. Later he collaborated with Dick Cheney to construct the energy policy Enron exploited.

The costs are still being paid. Portland General Electric, for example, was bought by Enron in 1997 for $2 billion in stock and $1.1 billion in assumed debt. (How much this was eventually worth is an unanswered question.) It was from the offices of PGE that the inventor of "Death Star," John Forney, operated. The sleazy dealings have continued there.

It is amazing that it became cheaper to import the wood products chemicals for Weyerhaueser rather than have them produced just down the street. The city council and everybody else did what they could do, but heavy users of energy – Kaiser Aluminum went down, too – had to be thrown overboard in those high seas. Of 175 employees in 2002, Dan became the last one. He just ran through his accumulated vacation, and I guess his pension is sound, but .... He loves to work, and he's looking at taking whatever work he can find that doesn't focus on driving. But it should have been Pioneer on the Tideflats.

So let's remember, when the focus is narrowed by the camera lens to a courthouse in Houston, that the fraud of Enron – Skilling, Lay, Fastow and the rest – was far, far, far broader. It not only ruined the employees of that company and gouged its stockholders, it put people out of work as far away as Tacoma. It disrupted and retarded the economies of more than a few states and burdened the lives of millions of people.

Were I their jailer (and were they in jail), I would be tempted to leave the keys to their cell inadvertently on the table, so perhaps a crew of those most directly lied to and cheated and ruined could "discover" them and dispense a little more direct justice.

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